Updated: Aug 13, 2022
AFTER HOURS (Martin Scorsese, 1985); Screening on 10 May 2022
Martin Scorsese doesn’t usually make comedies, but when he does…
They’re brutal (KING OF COMEDY), dark (WOLF OF WALLSTREET), and absurd (AFTER HOURS). Which isn’t to say they’re not also funny, but funny like… hitting your funny bone. Funny like… Joe Pesce, wanting to know why he’s funny. Funny like… trying to catch a cab in New York when your last 20 just flew out the window (and it’s 1985 and Uber and Paypal have not yet been invented.)
Welcome to the “funny” world of AFTER HOURS, where a buttoned up computer programmer (Griffin Dunne) travels from his familiar environs of the Upper East Side to meet and mingle with the strange and somewhat manic denizens of downtown. A bee-hive sporting Monkees fan (Teri Garr), pretty girl obsessed with scars (Rosana Arquette), plaster-of-Paris sculptor (Linda Fiorentino), crime stopping ice cream truck driver (Catherine O’Hara), and a host of other characters (and we do mean characters) seem to conspire to turn our hapless white collar hero’s evening into the longest night of his life.
Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival the year of the film’s release, Dunne recalled that “[W]e decided to shoot the picture as seriously, as realistically as possible, because we thought the situations were so extreme and bizarre, the comedy would follow. No mugging.... especially Catherine O'Hara [HOME ALONE, SCHITT’S CREEK]. I think the secret of the success of SCTV [Second City TV] was that they played real characters who said ridiculous things.”
However rare the comedy of AFTER HOURS, (despite the film being released only two years after KING OF COMEDY), the film is clearly a Scorsese film with many of the director’s signature moves.
Like most of his works, AFTER HOURS takes place in New York City, and was shot only a few blocks from where the director grew up. AFTER HOURS editor Thelma Schoonmaker would work with the auteur for over fifty years, winning 3 out of 8 Best Editing Oscars for the Scorsese films RAGING BULL, THE AVIATOR, and THE DEPARTED. The film’s expressionist camera work full of Steadicam magnificence and subjective angles, another Scorsese hallmark, was a joint effort by the director and German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who would go on to work with the Scorsese on many more features including GOODFELLAS (remember the amazing Steadicam Copa Cabana shot), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, and GANGS OF NEW YORK.
In addition to being a wonderful film on its own (and a fabulous opportunity to showcase one of this author’s favorite but mostly forgotten performers from the 80’s Teri Garr), AFTER HOURS is also a great encapsulation of Scorsese’s role in American filmmaking as a bridge between the era of the American New Wave, full of irreverence and experimentation, (eg, BONNIE & CLYDE, THE GRADUATE, EASY RIDER) and what would evolve into a more tepid, but also artistic, universe of “indie cinema” (eg, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, JUNO).
It’s almost as if AFTER HOURS was that one last night of debauchery before getting up the next day to do the serious work of making movies.
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"Grisly good fun in After-Hours New York Scorsese dreams up a freaky nightmare." Globe & Mail [Toronto, Canada], 27 Sept. 1985, p. E1(ILLUS). Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A165570069/AONE?u=mlin_b_suffuniv&sid=bookmark-
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Canby, Vincent. "'AFTER HOURS' FROM MARTIN SCORSESE." New York Times, 13 Sept. 1985, p. C6. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A113214342/AONE?u=mlin_b_suffuniv&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=2f566016. Accessed 6 May 2022.